updates: the anonymous complaint, the biopsy, and more

Here are three updates from past letter-writers.

1. I made an anonymous complaint about a coworker and she’s blaming someone else for it (#2 at the link, first update here)

First, a not-so-nice update. Remember I mentioned in my original letter that Jane was part of a group of three women? I gave updates on Jane and her friend Anne, but nothing of note happened with the third member of their clique until they both left. She regularly butted heads with new management and struggled with the more formal, professional environment that they fostered. I’ve been told that she was fired about six months ago after she was overheard in the printer room telling a colleague that her boyfriend and his friends were going to “jump” a female manager who reprimanded her. Whether she was actually arranging this or making an idle threat we’ll never know, but even if she wasn’t serious, I’m disgusted that she thought a group of men attacking a woman was a reasonable thing to suggest. I know that the incident was reported to the police, but I don’t know if any legal action has been taken.

The reason I was told this instead of seeing it play out firsthand, however, is because I no longer work there! When I last wrote to you, I was actively job-hunting. I ultimately decided I wanted to get out of the financial services industry altogether. Using interview tips from your site, I secured an offer for a part-time role that would give me experience in the industry I want to move into, and I used my spare time to study for some relevant qualifications. It was the best thing I have ever done. I was very careful not to bring any toxic traits with me; I focused on acting professionally and worked hard to polish my skills. Outside of work, I also started to actively engage with therapy to handle my anxiety better, and that made a huge improvement to my mental health. Unfortunately I was recently let go from my role because of the pandemic, but I’m re-entering the job market with formal qualifications and the offer of glowing references from my boss, grandboss, AND great-grandboss. Spending time working on myself in a healthier working environment means I am much more focused and more confident in my capabilities. I have a couple of promising leads, had a decent interview yesterday and have another one next week – I feel sure something good will come my way. :)

The last update I have is about Sarah, the coworker who was originally blamed for my complaint. She was promoted to a role that put her quite near to me in the city centre. When I saw her update on LinkedIn I decided to reach out and offer to have lunch and, when she took me up on it, I confessed to my complaint and apologised for letting her take the blame. She was so surprised she burst out laughing – apparently, another old coworker also confessed to making a complaint and made a similar apology! Sarah was so understanding and more than happy to forgive both of us for letting her take the heat. Her new role is a significant step up and she’s loving it so far. I think she’s going to do great things and I’m really pleased to see her succeed.

2. My coworker is returning after a sensitive leave of absence (#3 at the link)

Overall the transition back to work went well. Her manager did not have her join meetings right away, so she got a chance to get reacclimated without being thrust back into lots of changes at once. Once she started re-joining calls, it also went fine. The first few months went by with no hiccups. Over the past few years, there have been both good and bad interactions but nothing you wouldn’t expect in a work environment.

I don’t know if she’s getting professional help, but there definitely is less of an edge and less walking on eggshells when we introduce changes to processes. She has taken a few small leaves to deal with health issues, but nothing like the original suicide attempt. Our company has been very supportive of her, which is good to see. My team still works with her, but she’s transitioned largely away from interacting with our most difficult external client, and I am hopeful that is helping. Overall the relationship is pretty much a normal business relationship at this point, which is exactly what I was hoping for.

3. Should I tell my boss if I have an easily treatable cancer? (#5 at the link)

I got my biopsy results finally and I’m in the clear! I ended up not mentioning anything to my boss. Two of my work friends knew, but only for a few days beforehand. I knew they wouldn’t overreact and we talk about all sorts of stuff, so I felt comfortable mentioning it.

I’m glad I haven’t had to talk to my boss about anything serious, and I’m especially thankful for your advice and all of the kind words from commenters. Thank you all!

{ 65 comments… read them below }

  1. Mental Lentil*

    I am so, so, so glad that the person in #2 is doing better. Thank you for the update!

    1. Alice's Rabbit*

      Same! And I laugh at two people having apparently made the anonymous complaints. No wonder HR had no trouble believing it, with more than one complainant and confirmation from subsequent individual interviews.

  2. Anonys*

    Sending so many good wishes to OP1 and also to Sarah and absolutely none to the terrible trio of racist and bullying coworkers.

    1. Anonym*

      I love that another person had also anonymously reported Jane. What a feeling that must have been for OP to process! Great news all around.

      1. Suzy Q*

        I’m kind of shocked the OP would choose to go out to lunch with a person she knows is racist and also confess to her? WHY.

        1. Nessun*

          She went out to lunch with the person who was blamed for reporting the racist, and confessed it was her report that got this lady in hot water with the racist.

        2. Anonariffic*

          I had to go back and read the original to see who’s who, but Sarah wasn’t the racist- Jane was the one making racist comments, OP filed an anonymous complaint, Jane&co decided that Sarah must have made the complaint and bullied her in response.

        3. Laura R*

          She went out to lunch with the person accused of being the whistleblower, not the racists.

        4. Observer*

          Sarah wasn’t the racist. Not only that- she actually called out one of the racist rants. Which is what caused Jane to finally be stopped.

      2. Observer*

        I love that another person had also anonymously reported Jane.

        Yes! That was my first thought. It’s good to hear that the OP was not the only sane voice there.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          At the same time sad because more than one person was reporting this and the manager in the unit was doing absolutely nothing. Not a good look dude.

      3. wynne*

        Sarah was so wonderful when taking down Jane in the first update, I wonder if she’d already gotten an apology from the other coworker who complained, and was bolstered by the knowledge that at least one other coworker agreed with her. Incredible work on her end either way.

    2. Anonys*

      Also re-read the update and I cannot believe that the manager said the racism was an “individual issue” that could only be handled if the complainent came forward?? It was clearly the individual issue of Jane who was properly identified.
      Also knowing now that multiple people actually made complaints/called the whistelblower line (well wishes to the other coworker who complained as well) – baffling how the manager still didnt get that there was an issue. Even if he didnt make racist statements himself, clearly they align with his beliefs.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Agreed – hoping that his new position doesn’t have any authority over other people.

      1. Anonymous Hippo*

        A lot people seem to think that racist (homophobic, sexist,etc) remarks are only an issue between the person who said them, and the person taking offense. IE they don’t see them as an absolute wrong, but merely as interpersonal issues.

        I’m not happy about the company here. It’s not just on the manager, whoever manages the tip line (presumably HR) should have been following up to make sure the manager was dealing with it. For nothing to happen until there was virtually a physical confrontation is not good at all. Glad the OP has moved on.

        1. Baker*

          Speaking of absolute wrongs — I’m a bit concerned that LW1 is disgusted by the “thought that a group of men attacking a woman was OK.” I rather think that having *anyone* physically attack *any* coworker is disgusting, regardless of the genders involved.

          1. Boof*

            Well, I doubt LW1 would be ok with other gender iterations of that scenario that just because they were disgusted by that particular one

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Please don’t nitpick people like that. She was responding to the specific scenario presented, not saying nothing else would concern her.

      2. Elenna*

        Not to mention that the manager apparently (if I’m recalling correctly) witnessed some of the racism/bullying, did nothing, and then had the gall to say that employees should have come to the manager instead of the whistleblower line?? Like, dude, you had every chance to do something.

        1. Who is the asshole*

          You don’t understand. He could have done so much nothing for them if they’d just told him!

  3. Firecat*

    It’s hilarious that Sarah got multiple apologies from folks assuming it was their complaint.

      1. quill*

        Possibly. Or Jane assumed that she did because she had previously told Jane to stop being such a racist and was therefore “offended” by Jane’s diatribe more visibly than the people who went straight to the help line.

  4. Sabine*

    Op1’s story has left such a bad taste in mouth. I have no idea if the writer is a POC (and I suppose it doesn’t matter) but Sarah having to deal with openly racist abuse with no protection from anyone makes me feel sick. Glad she’s out of there but I find it so infuriating that the abuse went on for so long and she was forced to “take the heat.” I hope the bystanders in that office have reflected on the choices they made/didn’t make in allowing this culture to flourish.

    1. Persephone Mongoose*

      I have to agree. I’m really glad that the LW and Sarah have moved on and are in much better places now, but I really don’t like how no one, including the LW, stood up for her at all at the time. Anxiety or not, Sarah deserved to have someone in her corner and I hope the LW remembers that if they ever find themselves in a similar situation in the future.

      1. Jiminy Cricket*

        I don’t agree. With such a terrible manager and a clique of 3 (!) awful people in the team, it was entirely reasonable for OP and others needed to protect themselves from bullying. It’s not clear that them ‘taking the heat’ would have changed the situation anyway. I am disappointed that the original manager was not fired but just changed teams.

        1. Yorick*

          It’s ok to protect yourself, but not by allowing someone else to deal with the harm that you’re afraid of.

          1. knitcrazybooknut*

            Anxiety isn’t something benign and easy to overcome. OP1 knew what she could and couldn’t handle, and she acted accordingly. I fully support her taking care of herself. She clearly felt bad about leaving Sarah to fend off attackers, wrote in for advice, and took that advice, even though it might put her in further jeopardy.

            I myself have taken this kind of heat when I knew someone else wouldn’t be able to handle it. I’ve also been afraid of retaliation and done nothing. We all have our moments, and it’s on us to know what we can or can’t do. Criticizing someone for knowing their limits and only doing what they can isn’t helpful.

            1. SnappinTerrapin*

              I’ve found that, when the chips are down, some people are braver and stronger than they ever thought they would be. Others find that they are weaker and more frightened than they imagine themselves to be.

              This LW did several good things that led to some improvements in this workplace.

              Her critics don’t recognize their own blind spots. Maybe they would have found the courage to be as bold as they would like, but maybe they wouldn’t. We never know for sure how we will respond, until we are actually confronted with a situation.

              And for my part, the fact that I have taken some difficult stands in the past doesn’t necessarily mean I will have the courage or the strength in another moment in the future.

      2. StrikingFalcon*

        Well, the OP did reach back out to the whistleblower line and report the harassment Sarah was receiving. I don’t know that there is much else they could have done. Telling the bullies that they made the complaint would likely not have spared Sarah any bullying (she was in their bad graces in the first place for calling them out to their face, although they did escalate it after the complaint was made). Admitting to making the complaint would just have resulted in one more person being bullied. Really, this was on management to deal with and they failed to do so until it escalated far more than it ever should have. OP wasn’t an idle bystander – they made a report along the proper channels to try to get the issue dealt with by the only people who had the power to shut it down.

    2. Lalaroo*

      It doesn’t sound like Sarah was the target of racist abuse, just bullying and general abuse. I went back and read the original post and the first update, and I didn’t see anywhere that mentioned the racism was directed at Sarah.

      Also, who knows how many bystanders there were? It sounds like OP confronted Jane directly more than once, but the manager never acted and Jane was permitted to retaliate. We know that at least two people made official complaints, and we also know that Jane was allowed to publicly badmouth her teammates over the work chat function.

      If the abusive employee is allowed to abuse with impunity, it doesn’t make sense to blame the bystanders for not throwing themselves into the line of fire when no good would come of it. It’s on the management, not OP1 and her coworkers.

      1. OliveJuice90*

        This last paragraph is so key. I once worked around 5 years ago at a big box retail chain- and one that prides itself on being anti-racist/inclusive, and was openly told by my manager to racially profile POC customers when looking for theft. I refused publicly (she told this to her team as a group) and was then bullied and treated horribly by this woman. I reported her to HR and to their hotline. (Firstly, for asking employees to racially profile people, I also told them that she was retaliating against me for arguing with her) HR did nothing to her and offered to transfer me to another team but told me that they couldn’t guarantee me any hours. The person from the hotline that I spoke to never got back to me even after I followed up. So I finished up all of my work one day about two weeks after this had started and walked out the door, never to return. This manager has continued to work there at the same location and has worked for this company in retail management since the 80’s. My coworkers all agreed with me that she was racist, but many of them were in positions where they couldn’t leave, they needed that job. I was young with no kids/responsibilities and fortunate enough that I could scrape by for two months until I found a much better position. I don’t blame a single coworker for not defending me publicly or also quitting in solidarity.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, how they were treating Sarah was terrible but I don’t think a good solution would have been for OP to come forward and say “actually I made the complaint so you should bully me instead.” I think OP calling the whistleblower line again was just about the best she could do with the situation she had and it does sound like that got things appropriately escalated.

    3. LW1*

      Hi, that was my letter. To clarify, everyone in this situation is white. Jane made very racist comments but they were not directed at any specific team member.

      I’m not proud of my behaviour at all in keeping my head down and saying nothing, and I don’t want to make excuses for that. At the same time, I was suffering from crippling anxiety and was working in an extremely toxic environment that was making it worse. I wasn’t healthy and it simply wasn’t possible for me to stand up and be as strong as Sarah is. The best comparison I can make is that it would be like asking someone with a broken leg why they didn’t get up and walk over to help someone. I’m in a much better place now, both literally and mentally, and I’ve grown a lot. Put in the same position again, I would be a much more supportive colleague.

      1. Kal*

        It is entirely normal in extremely toxic and abusive environments for people to shut down and go into a survival mode, doing whatever it takes to not be the target. It’s even a known thing that victims of abuse will sometimes even participate in the abuse of others just to avoid the primary abuser(s) turning on them. Even that, though, is absolutely a product of the environment and the primary abuser(s) and not an indictment on the victim. Its just one more sign of how horrible the environment and how that sort of environments leads people into being so overwhelmed that they are unable to think of other ways to handle things.

        But you, LW1, didn’t even fall anywhere near that trap! You tried to stand up in the moment when you could, and did think of other ways to deal with it – including writing in here to get help and following through with the advice that was given, which included taking it up to people who had the actual power to change the situation. “You should have just let yourself be bullied more too and you should feel bad that you didn’t!” is not useful advice, and you’re already doing everything you ought to be – you got yourself out of the environment, you apologised to Sarah for your (small) role in her being targeted (and she’s clearly not blaming you for any of it) and you’re also seeking therapy which will hopefully help you more quickly realise if you ever have the misfortune of ending up in another toxic situation and have better tools to handle it.

        It’s on the company itself to reflect on the choices they they made/didn’t make in allowing this culture to flourish and to continue for so long even though they had all the power they needed to stop it, as well as multiple complaints and a manager who witnessed the abuse firsthand (and him not doing anything about it was seemingly still not an offence the company deemed worthy of firing).

        1. SnappinTerrapin*

          Well said. Thank you for encouraging her.

          She certainly did take effective steps to address the situation. The failures were, as we so often say, “above her pay grade.”

  5. ecnaseener*

    That update to #1 at least solves the mystery of why the boss was up in arms about “multiple” complaints when the LW had only made two. (Of course it’s very telling that he assumed they were all from the same person!)

    1. Firecat*

      Bad management at it’s finest.

      How dare you complain about this unacceptable situation? How unprofessional? Meanwhile ignores bullying, racism, and it sounds like physical threats?

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Well the confirmed threat came later anyways. It’s possible there were other threats earlier that OP didn’t know about.

  6. Observer*

    OP #1 -I’m not all that impressed with how your ex-company’s hot line / interface with HR works. There were MULTIPLE complaints, yet little was done. Even after you came back and complained about retaliation, things were not well handled. I mean it’s a good thing that Jane was made to quiet down a bit. But how was no one monitoring what Jane and her clique were doing? After all, they were being pretty public about it!

    That it took Jane literally throwing a fit – screaming loud enough for people outside of the room to hear and throwing things – to get the behavior stopped is pretty hair raising under any circumstances. But this additional tidbit makes it even worse.

    I hope that someone there realizes that they need to make better use of the information that comes through the tip line.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      It sounds like initial complaints went to the manager, which seems appropriate. But then the manager didn’t do anything so when further complaints were made things were escalated to higher management. That all sounds reasonable to me.

      OP didn’t personally witness anything until the screaming fit that resulted in immediate action, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t more investigating already happening from the initial complaints. We just can’t know how much they were doing based on the hotline complaints.

      1. LW1*

        Hi, I am the OP for this letter. I was very frustrated at the time when I didn’t see any action being taken but looking back, you’re absolutely right. I have no way of knowing what was being done behind the scenes.

        I do also wonder whether the people working on the anonymous tip line were really equipped to handle a complaint such as mine. They were the best/only option available to me at the time, but their main remit was to investigate tips where employees were suspected of financial misconduct rather than behavioural.

  7. quill*

    Sarah apparently has steel nerves if half your team was whistleblowing and the Mean Girls decided it was always her!

  8. El l*

    The interesting question is whether the other coworker who confessed to making a complaint…”confessed” to making this same complaint.

    We could have a Spartacus situation here.

    1. Laure*

      Well there were multiple complaints at the same time… Which makes the story even better.

    2. fhqwhgads*

      It doesn’t sound like it. It sounds like OP complained twice and at least one other complained once, about the same person’s behavior (possibly both citing the same incidents). The Manager and the subject of the complaints for some reason concluded it was all one person repeatedly reporting the same thing, rather than different people all filing complaints about the same incidents.

  9. TootsNYC*

    #1 and letting Sarah take the heat–you did make an effort to get that to stop, remember. And Sarah herself is the one who spoke up directly at the end.

    But wow, she’s tough! Go, her!

  10. Geget*

    The “jump” language in #1 made me wonder about racial coding in the letters and just what the “racist” remarks were. Is Jane Black and could the LW be a fragile white person? I didn’t follow comments on the other letters so I might be off base.

    1. JD*

      Or, you know, the LW and Sarah could be other racial minorities (Asian, etc). There are more than two races, you know.

    2. Aneurin*

      From the first update:

      “When discussing the menu, Jane lamented that there was no chicken and someone pointed out that chicken was available on the halal section of the menu. Jane loudly proclaimed that she wasn’t going to eat ‘Muslim food’ and overhearing this, Sarah said “Wow. You know you sound really racist when you say stuff like that, right?”

      Jane went crazy. She started screaming in Sarah’s face that she better stop calling her a racist, called her a b*tch, and threw a notebook across the room, while Sarah stood her ground and stayed perfectly calm.”

      So: probably not (just) white fragility.

    3. LW1*

      Hi, I’m the person who wrote this letter. To clarify – everyone in this situation was white, and Jane’s racist comment that prompted my original complaint was very anti-Black. I live in Scotland, and that’s where this all took place, and in Scotland “getting jumped” is very common slang and isn’t attributed to a certain race, so I apologise if it means something different in other countries and came across as racist in any way.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        I think it’s pretty normal slang in the US to, I am very confused about what made them think anything like what they said…

        1. SnappinTerrapin*

          Yes, white people in the US use this expression in the same context. I grew up in the Jim Crow South, and didn’t draw any inference about racial coding in the use of that slang expression in the same context. I had assumed, for better or worse, through all three letters that all parties were white. But even if that assumption had been mistaken, Sarah, the LW and the other employee who spoke up were in the right, and Sarah, her clique, and the direct supervisor were in the wrong.

          I’m tempted to be harsher in my reaction to Geget jumping to conclusions, but honestly, we all see things from the perspective of our own experience. It’s not her fault if her only experience with the phrase suggested a racial stereotype in her mind.

          Now she has been exposed to a few other perspectives, so maybe she will be less apt to jump to conclusions in the future.

Comments are closed.